Your Guide to Crafting a Nonprofit Cover Letter

Your Guide to Crafting a Nonprofit Cover Letter was originally published on Idealist Careers.

If you’re applying to multiple jobs in the social-impact sector, you may be tempted to use the same cover letter in all of your applications, even when the organizations have different focus areas. While it can seem like this tactic is saving you time, it may actually keep you from moving on to the interview round for a role that truly matches your background and interests.

When job postings ask you to submit a cover letter, think of it as less of a nuisance and more of an opportunity to show why you’re the best candidate for the job. This extra space allows you to present a deeper look into your professional story and expand past the details found on your resume.

But first… make sure you follow the directions!

Take a careful look through the job posting and note specific application instructions. Does the hiring organization want you to submit your application through email? Is there a form you need to complete online? Should your materials be included in a single PDF?

Watch out for required tasks, such as any specific questions to address in your cover letter or work samples to include with your application. Believe it not, something as simple as following instructions will help you stand out from the crowd.

How to write a nonprofit cover letter

The format of your cover letter can remain consistent across every job application you send, but the content should be specific, honest, and reflect your excitement about the role. You’ll want to stick to relevant professional and personal details, but don’t forget to let your passion shine through.

To save on time without skimping on details, we’ve broken the cover letter down into four focus areas:

1. Show off what you know about the organization

A good rule of thumb is to only use “To Whom it May Concern” when you truly have no idea who will be in charge of your application. Do some digging to find the name of the person who would be your potential supervisor, or consider addressing your cover letter to the head of HR or recruitment at the organization.

When you’re ready to do some actual writing, focus your introductory paragraph on the role at hand. State your interest in the organization, as well as what you know about their mission. Then, summarize your experience in the field and whether you’ve worked in similar capacities.

2. Tell a compelling story (not a life story) 

Your next paragraph should focus on the past roles that are most related to the position (i.e. don’t just rewrite your resume). When the job description calls for certain skills, mention projects that align with what the organization is looking for so they know you can actually do the work involved.

This paragraph is also a good place to mirror the language of the job description, especially when it comes to action verbs and important terms. If the organization uses an automated applicant tracking system (“ATS”) to manage applications, then including the right keywords can help to ensure that an actual human reads your materials. 

3. Highlight your commitment to social impact

If you’ve previously worked for a nonprofit, mention your familiarity with the sector and how your experience will help you in this new role. The job description may include some nonprofit lingo, so make sure that you understand and can apply the same language in your cover letter.

Don’t be afraid to share more about your side hustles, volunteer work, or passion projects that relate to the role. These details can help hiring managers understand why you want to be a program coordinator or development assistant for their organization specifically. Note: this is particularly important if you’re a sector-switcher who has limited experience in a mission-driven environment.

4. Close it out with a “thank you”

You’ve already done the work of sharing your most relevant experience, strengths, and interests, so it’s time to wrap it up. Thank the hiring manager for their time, and express your excitement for hearing about next steps.

Customization and careful attention to detail are key when you’re aiming to impress a potential employer. Take a final look through your cover letter to check for typos and other errors you may have overlooked before you hit send.

Pro Tip: Test your eye with our proofreading quiz to make sure you don’t make the same mistakes in your own application materials.

Return to this guide whenever you’re applying for a nonprofit job—we hope it will help you find a position that marries your background and interest in social impact!


If you think a grad degree could help you land the social-impact role of your dreams, take a look through these common grad programs and learn how they connect to the sector.